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Monday, 15 October, 2001, 16:00 GMT 17:00 UK
Nitel launches GSM amid storm
MTN advertisement
MTN claims it is being obstructed by Nitel
State-run telecoms company Nitel has launched Nigeria's third GSM mobile phone network amid claims that it is hindering its competitors in the market.


We have the cutting edge [over competitors] because we know the Nigerian market better and we have facilities across the country, which makes it easier and faster for us to expand

Nitel
"We have just launched the network. We are looking at providing services for an initial 5,000 people," said Nitel spokesman Abdulhamid Umar.

Nitel was out-manoeuvred by rival operators MTN and Econet in August when they began offering digital GSM services.

Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation with more than 110 million people, has only one phone line for every 250 people, one of the lowest service levels on the continent.

No service

Debt-laden and loss-making Nitel is responsible for the seamless interconnectivity of the rival MTN and Econet networks.

Nitel currently provides a 5,000 simultaneous call capacity for each of the private operators but the rivals have signed up about 120,000 subscribers since they launched in August.

"We do not have problems with our networks because it is easy to call through both networks," Econet's marketing director Darlington Mandivenga said last week.

"But the problem is with Nitel. They promised that by now the expansion would be completed but nothing appears to have been done."

But Nitel denies it is using its dominant position to hinder its rivals and has pledged to connect 120,000 lines by December.

"The congestion also affects us too. But we are assuring them the problem will soon be over," a Nitel spokesman told Nigeria's Guardian newspaper.

In July, under emergency government measures to improve Nitel's operations, Ericsson was awarded a $139m order to roll out GSM services by December, with additional contracts going to France's Alcatel and Germany's Siemens.

Nitel's woes

Nitel has blamed the late launch of its GSM service and technical difficulties on "bureaucratic delays" but is optimistic it will survive.

"We have the cutting edge (over its competitors) because we know the Nigerian market better and we have facilities across the country, which makes it easier and faster for us to expand," Mr Umar said.

Nitel, which is due to be privatised in November, says it will extend GSM services to the commercial capital Lagos and the south-eastern cities of Enugu and Port Harcourt by December.

The company's existing 40,000 analogue mobile subscribers have been offered preferential treatment if they applied for the GSM service.

Nitel, which still has a monopoly over the national fixed-line network, will maintained the existing analogue network for those who did not upgrade, Mr Umar said.

The three operators paid $285m each for GSM licences.

See also:

07 Aug 01 | Africa
Mobile use to mushroom in Nigeria
21 Aug 01 | Business
Ericsson wins Nigeria contracts
28 Aug 01 | Business
Nigeria's digital mobile bonanza
15 Jun 01 | Business
Nigeria's mobile drive stumbles
19 Jan 01 | Business
Nigeria awards telecoms licences
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